The Bellamy Brothers, one of the most successful and celebrated brother duos in country music, with millions of records sold and decades of sold-out gigs on the road, always knew who they were and where they came from. Before they hit No. 1 on the pop singles chart in 1976 with “Let Your Love Flow” and later racked up 10 number one country hits among 25 top 10 scorers, David and Howard Bellamy were poverty ranchers and farmers from central Florida. Their father, Homer, supported his family as a hired hand punching cows for many of his neighbors.
In high school, David’s band, the Accidents, played locally for what he recalls as “gas, beers, a couple of bucks and girls.” He says he never really thought much about any profession other than that of a musician. “That’s all I knew how to do.”
Howard was different. Like David, he’d been schooled on guitar chords by Homer, who moonlighted as a country musician at local parties and roadhouses. While David was playing the kinds of joints known around the country as skull orchards, Howard took a full-time job with a meat packing plant as a cattle buyer. At the age of 19, he had a company car, an expense account and a decent salary for a kid his age. But he didn’t join the band.
David followed his dreams. Howard followed his common sense.
“Music didn’t mean anything less to me than it did to David; I just knew I had to make a living. By then I was married. I’ve always had an income. David was always pointing in the direction of music, but he never really made any money out of it until his time came.”
Colorfully enough, it was a chicken snake that did the most to start Howard and David on the road to commercial music success.
One evening, after a few drinks and an unrehearsed jam, Howard and David headed back to their shack and David climbed into bed to get some sleep. Howard chose a sleeping bag they kept on a stack of hay bales.
“I didn’t see him when he first crawled into the sleeping bag, but I can vouch that he came out of it like a lightning bolt, screaming at the top of his lungs,” David says. “As I jumped up to see what was going on, I caught sight of a huge chicken snake slithering out of the bag, alongside Howard. I laughed as hard as I had ever laughed in my life. There was no way we could realize how important that incident would become to our careers.”
A few days later David drove down to Tampa to check out a new recording studio he’d heard about. After he scored a job helping around the studio, he played the owner, Blair Mooney, some songs he’d written.
When Mooney started a label he called Moon Records, the first release on the label was David singing a song he wrote called “Rainy Day in the South,” which came and went without a ripple. Then Phil Gernhard came into their lives.
Gernhard had produced the hit song, “Stay,” and a string of novelty hits for an Ocala band called the Royal Guardsmen. Their first hit, “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” sold a million singles.
Gernhard had some news for them. Jim Stafford, another of Gernhard’s artists, had been visiting the office when he spotted a tape box on his desk. The title read: “Spiders and Snakes.” He liked the title, the story and the song, and he wanted to rewrite it some with the song’s writer.
The writer was David Bellamy, inspired by Howard’s adventure with the chicken snake back in their shack on the farm.
Soon “Spiders and Snakes” would be climbing the charts. Gernhard was moving out to L.A. He wanted David to move there too, so he could write songs with Stafford. All at once, David was offered a publishing contract, an artist recording contract and a management contract, all transferring pieces of himself to this guy who didn’t really know him or give a damn about him personally. David knew exactly what he had to do.
He drove straight home to Darby, to the people who cared about him, the only people he trusted with his life: his father, Homer; his mother, Frances, and his brother Howard.
“They listened to what I had to say. They were truly excited for me and the future. But we are country people, not lawyers. They could only show their support — their faith in me. So, I weighed my options, rolled my dice, signed the papers with no legal counsel and no changes, and a few days later I returned them to Gernhard.”
David and Howard began their strange odyssey as real-life cowboys caught in fantasyland, staying in an old mansion near the Hollywood Bowl, sharing space with a memorable magician-entertainer named Gallagher, who would write skits for Stafford’s hit TV show.
Howard, who’d garnered a gig as personal assistant to Stafford, spent much of his time on the road with the comic, comfortable with his new job in glamorous Hollywood.
Meanwhile, David was writing songs with Stafford and others and demoing them with Howard in a little studio they had rigged up in their basement. Gernhard liked what he heard and gave David the go-ahead to cut some songs with Neil Diamond’s band. During one of those sessions, Diamond’s drummer, Dennis St. John, walked over to David, and said, “You know, our roadie, Larry Williams, wrote this song you need to hear. It sounds like something y’all would do.”
David was immediately hooked on Williams’ song, “Let Your Love Flow.”
Around that time, a company of national record promoters called the Scotti Bros. were making David (and themselves) prosperous by promoting “Spiders and Snakes” around the country.
Tony saw Howard at Cypress Gardens setting up a show for Jim. As he usually did, Howard sang a song to get the sound levels. Tony was impressed. He told Gernhard about Howard’s great voice and Gernhard asked David if he and Howard had ever thought of singing together as a duo.
David laughed and explained that they’d been the Bellamy Brothers since they’d first played music with their dad at the Rattlesnake Roundup in Darby.
“Then why don’t you just call yourselves the Bellamy Brothers?” Tony asked.
When the label chiefs at Curb Records decided that “Let Your Love Flow” would be released in Europe before a U.S. release, the Bellamys viewed all the high-level business wizardry with a degree of awe. They were getting the opportunity to see how the pros broke a brand-new act. And they would be the new act!
The record hit the charts in the Netherlands. The video was receiving airplay on TV shows in England and on the continent. The Bellamys quickly embarked on a promotional tour on the continent and were treated like royalty there. Meanwhile, the record was taking off in Germany, so off they went to Hamburg, then to Bavaria and on to Switzerland. Just weeks before, they didn’t matter to anybody outside their own family. Now, in places they had scarcely heard of back in Darby, they had found their way into the ears and hearts of millions of Europeans.
Soon, “Let Your Love Flow” was breaking in America, destined to become the largest BMI airplay record that year. So it was back to L.A., no time to think, too busy putting together a band.
“Two farm boys from Florida with a worldwide hit?” laughs David. “We were so big so quick, we must have thought we had a career. But a hit is a hit, especially when it’s your first, and especially when it’s an international monster.” And as with most “monsters,” the monster of their sudden fame had sharp teeth.
“When we got back to L.A., we primed to party while ‘Let Your Love Flow’ climbed the charts,” David says. “It was the mid-’70s, and there was a single-edged razor blade in every rehearsal hall in L.A. Cocaine was everywhere, and we couldn’t not be a part of it, you know, so we were. It was a crazy world.
“But we never went off track. We were still working on our music, determined that we’d build a real career out of ‘Let Your Love Flow.’ We put together a good touring band and went out on the road.
They were opening for one of nation’s hottest acts, Loggins and Messina, but they were not happy working with Gernhard. Gernhard bought a new beach house in Malibu and the Bellamys, with one of the biggest hits of the year, remained poor. When $60,000 worth of their own music equipment was stolen from their tour truck in Chicago, driving them deeper into a financial hole, it was a sign. David and Howard gave up their band and left L.A., returning to the home comforts of Darby, Fla.
“We decided to work on our country stuff, and Darby is pretty close to Nashville,” David says. “We figured we may as well stay in Florida, at least the rent’s low. We had cows we could butcher, and turnip greens and oranges to eat. When those big shots in L.A. found out we were planning to stay in Darby, they told us we’d never work in showbiz again.
“At some point we called for a meeting with Mike Curb, and told him how hard it was to work with Gernhard, and begged for a better working situation. We were so used to scrapping with Gernhard that we thought we’d have to battle with Curb, but Curb’s cousin John, who was a record promoter, liked us and told Mike, ‘I heard a couple of things the guys cut, and I know I can get them played on country radio.’”
David recalls asking, “Where have you been?”
“Our first country chart record ‘Slippin’ Away,’ made it into the 30s. Our next single, ‘Lovin’ On,’ climbed to number 16. We were on the road with Conway Twitty at the time, and when we started playing a song I wrote called, ‘If I Said You Have a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)’ on our shows, the crowd reaction was so strong that we started to believe we’d lucked into another one of those ‘people’ songs like ‘Let Your Love Flow,’ the kind of song that lights up a career and keeps it burning.”
But almost nobody at Curb Records believed in “Beautiful Body,” and the brothers had to battle to get even a small recording budget.
“That’s kind of how it went back then,” says Howard. “We were reaching rock bottom when we moved back to the farm. I was living in a tent. We did know how to put a band together, David had written another hit, but we had to convince them to let us record it. Everything was a battle with them.”
“Beautiful Body” became a monster hit on the U.S. country charts and charted worldwide. The Bellamy Brothers became one of country music’s most popular acts, with a string of hit records and a packed schedule of top dollar live dates. They built a worldwide loyal following that still fills clubs and theaters 140-plus nights a year.
Today, the farm is much more than a place to raise cows. They built their own recording studio, where they produce and write their albums. They developed a powerful merchandise arm. They created a popular TV show and established a thriving book publishing company as well as a record company that releases a steady stream of albums.
Howard assesses the past and the path of the Bellamy Brothers’ success carefully. “I just think it never occurred to us to be stopped,” he says. “But I’ll tell you this. We may have learned the hard edges of business in L.A. and Europe, but we had to go home to the farm. That’s where we really found our music.”